Lina Bacalando is a community health worker and organizer with the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health in the Philippines. In the fall of 2018, Lina accompanied her colleague Joy Salgado and Inter Pares staff Jack Hui Litster and Rita Morbia on a two-week public engagement and learning tour that covered six cities in British Columbia.
I was born in a remote village in the province of Leyte and have known poverty since I was a child. My parents have over 30 siblings between them. But I’ve seen that with access to reproductive rights, especially contraception, you can space your children. You can feed your kids and send them to school. I am proud that all three of my children are college graduates. That’s why I support women and girls to make their own reproductive choices. Through the Likhaan Centre for Women’s Health, women like me break the cycle of poverty. Every day is a challenge as an organizer, but I will not stop helping women.
Coming to Canada and touring British Columbia was an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. It is the first time I have travelled so far from the Philippines. I was afraid that I couldn’t communicate very well because of the language, but when I arrived and met with groups like the Penticton Indian Band Health Department, Options for Sexual Health, and the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, how they welcomed us! I felt more comfortable and realized I can do it. In Penticton, it was powerful to see how the Indigenous community has come together to fight for high-quality and respectful government-funded healthcare.
I saw commonalities with so many of the organizations we met across BC. I did not realize that Canadians have such problems: poverty, housing, women facing stigma, and lack of access to reproductive health services such as abortion. As women’s rights activists in the Philippines, we can relate.
During this tour, I also met with Inter Pares supporters and let them know they are changing lives in the communities where Likhaan works through improved sexual and reproductive health and rights.
This experience has given me strength and inspiration. Back home, I will share my experiences with our community organizers. I will share the inspirational moments and I will apply some of the ideas and approaches.
I realize how important it is to have a network, and to build solidarity. I met tenacious women with 40 years of experience in this struggle but they are still fighting. Like them, I will keep fighting to see the full implementation of our country’s reproductive health law, and to lower maternal mortality.